Court orders reinstatement of fired Manila city hall employees

A MANILA judge has ordered the reinstatement of the 1,197 dismissed Manila city hall employees, and  the payment of their salaries after declaring as “invalid and contrary to law” Executive Order No. 15, issued by Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim which provided for the “mass lay-off”of the city hall workers.

In a 13-page order dated June 20, 2012, Manila Regional Trial Court Presiding Judge Daniel C. Villanueva, of Branch 49, granted the petitioners’ plea for a writ of preliminary mandatory injunction, directing respondents Heidi A. Rosero, Officer-In-Charge of the City Budget Office, to sign and affix her signature on the general payrolls, and Marissa S. De Guzman, OIC of the City Treasurer’s Office, to disburse their salaries, wages, fees and other remunerations from April 1, 2012 onwards for services actually rendered.

The preliminary mandatory injunction also enjoined “as an equitable remedy and in the interest of justice, the enforcement of said Executive Order No. 15, series of 2012, for being invalid and contrary to law.”

In granting the mandatory injunction, Villanueva also ruled that ‘the law appears to be quite clear that the appointment of employees or personnel in the city council or the legislative branch is well within the province of the Vice Mayor.”

In their memorandum dated June 11, 2012, the Manila City Hall, represented by City Legal Officer Renato G. Dela Cruz, contended that the appointments of the dismissed city hall workers were not approved by the mayor, and that the vice mayor’s authority to appoint is limited only to permanent employees.

Villanueva also rejected Dela Cruz’s insinuations that there were irregularities in the engagement of the casual employees in the city council, and that some of the dismissed city hall workers may either be ghost employees or may not actually be rendering work and service.

But Villanueva stressed if there were attendant anomalies, the executive branch apparently sat on its hands by its inaction.

“Not a single investigation or report was cited to substantiate the same. It appears that no charges, criminal or administrative, have been filed…. These are in the nature of general averments,” said Villanueva.

The Manila judge further said there was no question that there was an appropriation and that the same was obligated. He said there was no notice from the City Treasurer as to non-availability of funds.

“There should have been no lawful impediment not to process the payroll and refuse payment of the salaries after the Vice Mayor had already approved the same. In fact, some of the payrolls were already signed and were already distributed to the paymasters until respondents backtracked and even allegedly erased their signatures through correction fluid,” explained Villanueva.

In further issuing the mandamus, Villanueva considered “manifest and substantial” the alleged invasion of the petitioners’ rights which appear to be “clear and unmistakable.”

The more than 1,000 petitioners who are casual and contractual employees were assigned to the Office of the Vice Mayor and to the different administrative offices, divisions and sections of the City Council and the 38 city councilors of the city.

Villanueva said there appears to be an urgent and permanent necessity for the writ to prevent “serious damage.”

“The very livelihood of petitioners and their families are at stake. Most are said to be lowly paid, living below minimum wage and on a hand-to-mouth existence. Their minute salaries could sometimes spell the difference between life and death,” averred Villanueva.

He likewise cited the “partisan element” in the termination of the petitionrs from their jobs as he mentioned Vice Mayor Isko Moreno’s court testimony that as early as January this year, he was already rumoured to be running for Manila Mayor.

“Right before the lay-off of the employees, he (Moreno) and the majority of the members of the City Council bolted from their alliance with the incumbent mayor and pledged allegiance with the party of former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada, who is perceived to be running against the incumbent mayor in next year’s elections,” said Villanueva in his decision.

Villanueva said these factors may lend political color to the current imbroglio. He said the Audit Observation Memorandum (AOM) may have unwittingly served as a pretext for EO No. 15.

Dela Cruz insisted the dismissal of city hall workers was in consonance with the AOM as a means of cost-cutting.

However, Villanueva stated that “whatever political scores there are to be settled, it would seem that the casual employees are the first to be caught in the middle of the cross-fire.

The AOM issued by Manila City Auditor Elinore C. Lavilla on February 29, 2012 asked the Manila city government to explain its P1.1 billion overpayment for personal services in 2011.

Pursuant to the AOM, Lim issued on March 2, 2012 EO No. 15, ordering the lay-off of 30 percent of temporary, casual, job order, consultants and project employees, both the legislative and executive branches. Later, City Administrator Jay Marzan wrote City Council secretary Atty. Luch Gempis demanding that city council should lay-off employees by 50 percent and not only 30 percent.

Since May 8, 2012, petitioners  has demanded  the payment of their salaries from the City Treasurer’s Office, but to no avail.

Villanueva further said contracts entered into must be honored and work rendered should be paid.

The court was able to establish that dismissed casual employees were covered by plantilla for their appointment until December 31, 2012. The petitioners-consultants/researchers, on the other hand, have an existing contract valid until December 31, 2012. But they have not yet received their salaries since April 1, 2012 up to the present.

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